Oral Microbiome: What is it? How does it affect Health and Well Being?

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What is an Oral Microbiome?

The Oral microbiome (also called as Oral microbial flora) is a community of microorganisms, predominantly bacteria, found within the mouth of humans and animals. Several hundred species of bacteria (1300+ identified till date) exist within this delicately balanced community. It is the second most diverse biome of the body, after the gut.

The microbiome in our mouth gets much less publicity than the gut microbiome, but it is just as important. An imbalance in the oral microbiome, like an imbalance in the gut, will lead to inflammation, illness, and disease.

What Is an Oral Microbiome Imbalance?

It is important to note that in the human microbiome there is no such thing as “good bacteria” and “bad bacteria”. Rather, it’s just bacteria that behave well (probiotics), or those that behave poorly (pathogens), depending on the condition of their environment in which they breed.

When oral microorganisms live in harmony within our oral cavity it is considered as a balanced Oral microbiome. A number of species of bacteria in the mouth associated with tooth decay and gum disease are totally benign in this balanced state.

An oral microbiome imbalance occurs when the otherwise good bacteria go out of control, disrupting the harmony of our oral microbiome. This can be caused by various factors. For example, a decrease in our salivary flow can shift our salivary Ph from a healthy neutral level to an unhealthy acidic one. This in turn allows acid producing and acid-tolerant bacteria to grow exponentially causing cavities and gum diseases.

What is the affect of an imbalanced Oral microbiome on our Dental and overall health?

Symptoms that often signal an imbalanced oral microbiome include bad breath, bleeding gums, frequent new tooth decay, gum disease, mouth ulcers and sensitive teeth.

Apart from the negative impact in our mouths, an increase in oral pathogens has also been associated with various diseases and conditions in our body, including endocarditis, cardiovascular disease, pregnancy & birth complications and pneumonia.

What can I do to maintain a healthy balanced oral microbiome?

The best and the easiest thing we can do to look after our oral health is to do the basics: proper brushing at least twice per day, flossing at least once per day and regular dental check ups.

It is also helpful to talk to our dentist to recommend tooth pastes and alcohol free mouthwashes to avoid buying those that might strip and/or destroy the microbiome.

What we eat and drink can also cause an imbalance in the oral microbiome. To maintain the balance we should:-

  • As much as possible avoid food that are processed or contain artificial preservatives.
  • Avoid refined sugar in all forms (table sugar, corn and maple syrups etc.)
  • Eat whole foods in their original state wherever possible.
  • Eat as much seasonal produce as possible.
  • Eat and drink fermented foods like yogurts, kombucha, sauerkraut and dill pickles on a regular basis as they can help replenish our oral and gut microbiomes.
  • Eat green leafy vegetables and a diverse selection of fibres.

We should also try to minimise stress as stress can decrease our salivary flow. Incorporating yoga, meditation and/or regular exercise into our lives will not only improve our breathing and other body vitals but will also help keep our Oral microbiome in balance.